The Gospels contain parables. Jesus spoke a lot of parables, not to conceal but to speak the truth. The Nelson’s New Illustrated Bible Dictionary defined “Parable” as “a short, simple story designed to communicate a spiritual truth, religious principle, or moral lesson; a figure of speech in which truth is illustrated by a comparison or example drawn from everyday experiences.”
One of the most obscure, misunderstood and diversely interpreted parables of Jesus may be found in Luke 16:1-9.
He also said to the disciples, “There was a rich man who had a manager, and charges were brought to him that this man was wasting his possessions. And he called him and said to him, ‘What is this that I hear about you? Turn in the account of your management, for you can no longer be manager.’ And the manager said to himself, ‘What shall I do, since my master is taking the management away from me? I am not strong enough to dig, and I am ashamed to beg. I have decided what to do, so that when I am removed from management, people may receive me into their houses.’ So, summoning his master’s debtors one by one, he said to the first, ‘How much do you owe my master?’ He said, ‘A hundred measures of oil.’ He said to him, ‘Take your bill, and sit down quickly and write fifty.’ Then he said to another, ‘And how much do you owe?’ He said, ‘A hundred measures of wheat.’ He said to him, ‘Take your bill, and write eighty.’ The master commended the dishonest manager for his shrewdness. For the sons of this world [age] are more shrewd in dealing with their own generation than the sons of light. And I tell you, make friends for yourselves by means of unrighteous wealth, so that when it fails they may receive you into the eternal dwellings.”
Let us first establish the context or background of the parable. It was uttered by Jesus against the Pharisees. See Luke 15:1-3.
Now the tax collectors and sinners were all drawing near to hear Him [Jesus]. And the Pharisees and the scribes grumbled, saying, “This man receives sinners and eats with them.” So He told them this parable:
The Pharisees had unjustly accused Jesus of wrongdoings because He welcomed tax collectors and sinners, which had been a repeated contention raised against Jesus Christ. See Luke 5:30.
And the Pharisees and their scribes grumbled at his disciples, saying, “Why do you eat and drink with tax collectors and sinners?”
Also, Luke 7:39.
Now when the Pharisee who had invited Him (Jesus Christ) saw this, he said to himself, “If this man were a prophet, he would have known who and what sort of woman this is who is touching him, for she is a sinner.”
And many other instances.
The Pharisees were an influential religious sect within Judaism in the time of Christ and the early church. They were known for their emphasis on personal piety (the word Pharisee comes from a Hebrew word meaning “separated”), their acceptance of oral tradition in addition to the written Law, and their teaching that all Jews should observe all 600-plus laws in the Torah, including the rituals concerning ceremonial purification.
The Pharisees were mostly middle-class businessmen and leaders of the synagogues. Though they were a minority in the Sanhedrin and held a minority number of positions as priests, they seemed to control the decision-making of the Sanhedrin because they had popular support among the people.Source: GotQuestions.Org
Doubtless, the influence and teachings of the Pharisees have much effect on the minds of the Jews; hence, they acted similarly here in Luke 19:5-7.
And when Jesus came to the place, He looked up and said to him, “Zacchaeus, hurry and come down, for I must stay at your house today.” So he hurried and came down and received Him joyfully. And when they [the Jews] saw it, they all grumbled, “He has gone in to be the guest of a man who is a sinner.”
Jesus actually spoke a series of parables in response to the Pharisees’ accusation (Luke 15:1-2), one after the other – “the parable of one lost sheep” (Luke 15:4-7); “the parable of lost coin” (Luke 15:8-10); “the parable of the prodigal son” (Luke 15:11-32); “the parable of the shrewd manager” (Luke 16:1-9); and lastly, “the parable of the rich man and Lazarus” (Luke 16:19-31).
Jesus through each parable was setting up His argument and rebuke against the Pharisees – the Pharisees who were teachers of the Law, God’s Word, so they should be concerned with the flock of God, even if only for one lost sheep (Luke 15:4-7), for God desires to redeem even one lost soul, figuratively represented by the “lost coin” (Luke 15:8-10).
Next, Judah was the son who never left his father yet had no heart to embrace back Israel (the Northern Kingdom of Israel), but having repented from his wrongdoings, the father willingly restored him as a son – the parable of the prodigal son (Luke 15:11-32). Likewise, the Pharisees, like the eldest son in the parable, refuse to accept the tax collectors. They grumbled against Jesus for welcoming them to hear Him.
Now continuing on Jesus’ second to last parable spoken against the Pharisees, Luke 16:1-9, Jesus told a story of a rich man who was told his manager was wasting his possessions (16:1). In 16:2, the rich man called the manager and said to him, “What is this I hear about you? Turn in the account of your management, for you can no longer be manager.” Without first investigating to ascertain the veracity of what he was told, the rich man fired the manager on the basis of what he heard (16:2). The rich man therefore was unjust. The manager likewise was unjust. Jesus Christ referred to him as DISHONEST or UNJUST, depending on the translation of the the parable (Luke 16:8) but definitely of negative connotation.
Now look closely at Luke 16:3-8.
And the manager said to himself, ‘What shall I do, since my master is taking the management away from me? I am not strong enough to dig, and I am ashamed to beg. I have decided what to do, so that when I am removed from management, people may receive me into their houses.’ So, summoning his master’s debtors [G5533] one by one, he said to the first, ‘How much do you owe my master?’ He said, ‘A hundred measures of oil.’ He said to him, ‘Take your bill, and sit down quickly and write fifty.’ Then he said to another, ‘And how much do you owe?’ He said, ‘A hundred measures of wheat.’ He said to him, ‘Take your bill, and write eighty.’ The master commended the dishonest manager for his shrewdness. For the sons of this world are more shrewd in dealing with their own generation than the sons of light.
The master did not appear to have been surprised by the huge discount given out by the dishonest manager. No businessman would be happy for such huge a discount if it would amount to loses. Obviously the master and the dishonest manager have conspired to overcharge the clients, causing them to be close to bankruptcy, unable to pay their debt. So again, the master truly is unjust. So is the dishonest manager, he continued to work behind the back of his master though already fired – once again, for his own personal gain.
Next, see “debtors,” in verse 5. A quick check with a Lexicon, a dictionary of Greek and Hebrews – in our case Greek words – “debtors” was used only twice by Jesus in the entire narrative across all four Gospels of the New Testament Scripture. The other occurrence may be seen in Luke 7:41, but I will include the context for proper understanding. See Luke 7:40-43.
And Jesus answering said to him, “Simon, I have something to say to you.” And he answered, “Say it, Teacher.” “A certain moneylender had two debtors. One owed five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. When they could not pay, he cancelled the debt of both. Now which of them will love him more?” Simon answered, “The one, I suppose, for whom he cancelled the larger debt.” And He said to him, “You have judged rightly.”
Did you notice how Jesus had used “debtors” in His storytellings or teachings? “Debtors” refer to those who have bad debts, people who can no longer pay their debts – people who have gone bankrupt, in other words.
So having understood Jesus’ use of the word “debtors,” indeed the manager had acted shrewdly. With the huge discount, the dishonest manager was able to collect both the capital and the master’s profit margin. On the other hand, the debtor’s having no way out of his debt, seeing the huge discount, sought for a way to pay back so that they may be free and possibly reengage in business. It’s a win-win, for both the master and his clients. To the master, the bad debts, uncollectible or NPL (None performing debts) in our modern term, have been recovered. More so, for the dishonest manager, ‘cause he has extended favor to the master’s clients giving them the chance to be back in business, thereby possibly making himself indispensable to the master and a man of goodwill to the clients.
Now, going back to the context of Jesus’ parable, He was unjustly accused by the Pharisees, Jews may have also been confused by His actions simply because He welcomed tax collectors and sinners. The Pharisees understood when Jesus Christ spoke the parable against them. See Luke 16:14, Scripture said, “The Pharisees, who were lovers of money, heard all these things, and they ridiculed Him (Jesus Christ).”
Without a doubt then, the parable of the dishonest manager was spoken against the Pharisees. They have made friends for themselves by means of unrighteous wealth or in shrewdness, like today, as the saying goes, “Money talks.” Yet money means nothing or would have no value in their final and eternal dwellings – the Lake of Fire. Yes, that’s the eternal dwelling in Luke 16:9, not heaven. That truth was communicated clearly by Jesus Christ through His second parable, go see Luke 16:19-31 – the parable of the rich man and Lazarus, which spoke of the rich man’s punishment. The rich man was in hades, judged already awaiting his final dwelling; yes, the Lake of fire or the second death (Revelation 20:14). Once again, the rich man represented the Pharisees, who were lovers of money. They didn’t care to lift a finger in aid of the needy but were concern only about themselves, similar to the dishonest manager of Luke 16:1-9.
The Bible revealed the true condition of the Pharisees’ heart – they were lovers of money. They put much importance to temporal wealth (unrighteous wealth) over true riches; hence, they failed to see – the fulfillment of the Law and the Prophets (see Luke 24:44) has been unveiling before them. The Gospel of the kingdom has been preached.
The tax collectors and sinners represent each and every one of us. We owe God a huge debt, which cannot be repaid by us but by Christ Jesus alone. But be careful not to fall into an understanding that we Christians ought to be shrewd in our dealings. That was never the intent or teaching of Jesus Christ on this parable (Luke 16:1-9). Now to expound on this further, Jesus Christ in verse 8b-9 said:
“For the sons of this world [age] are more shrewd in dealing with their own generation than the sons of light. And I tell you, make friends for yourselves by means of unrighteous wealth, so that when it fails they may receive you into the eternal dwellings.”
Let me first point out that “sons of this world“ should properly be translated “sons of this age“, “aiōn, G165” in Greek, which was rightly translated by the New American Standard Bible translation. The Strong’s Greek Dictionary explained that it is “by implication the world; specifically (Jewish) a Messianic period”.
The coming of Jesus Christ, the Son of Man, then was the beginning of the Messianic Age (Luke 17:20-21). The sons of this age, in Luke 16:8, then refers to the sons of the Jewish Age or Old Covenant Age, distinguishing them from the sons of light, the followers of Jesus Christ and those who truly believes in His Word. See John 12:34-36.
So the crowd answered Him [Jesus], “We have heard from the Law that the Christ remains forever. How can you say that the Son of Man must be lifted up? Who is this Son of Man?” So Jesus said to them, “The light is among you for a little while longer. Walk while you have the light, lest darkness overtake you. The one who walks in the darkness does not know where he is going. While you have the light, believe in the light, that you may become sons of light.” When Jesus had said these things, he departed and hid himself from them.
An important insight in Scripture. The interval between the end of the Jewish Age (Old Covenant Age) and the beginning of the Christian Age (New Covenant Age) was the Messianic Age (Period). The Messianic Age encompassed the seemingly two comings of Jesus Christ, which actually was one in the Old Testament prophecies. Examples may be seen through Malachi 3:1-5 and Matthew 3:11-12.
The New Covenant (or New Testament) is the promise that God makes with humanity that He will forgive sin and restore fellowship with those whose hearts are turned toward Him. Jesus Christ is the mediator of the New Covenant, and His death on the cross is the basis of the promise (Luke 22:20). The New Covenant was predicted while the Old Covenant was still in effect—the prophets Moses, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel all allude to the New Covenant.Source: GotQuestions.Org
So Scripture in Matthew 26:26-29 said: “Now as they were eating, Jesus took bread, and after blessing it broke it and gave it to the disciples, and said, ‘Take, eat; this is My body.’ And He took a cup, and when He had given thanks He gave it to them, saying, ‘Drink of it, all of you, for this is My blood of the [new] covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins. I tell you I will not drink again of this fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new with you in My Father’s kingdom.’”
Jesus Christ died, resurrected and ascended to reign over His kingdom. Obviously, it’s a spiritual kingdom, not an earthly or physical kingdom which was offered to Him by the Jews in John 6:15, but Jesus Christ rejected it.
Without a doubt, Jesus Christ came as He have promised His then living apostles, saying “Truly, I say to you, there are some standing here who will not taste death until they see the Son of Man coming in His kingdom (Matthew 16:28).” The same promised was reiterated by Mark and Luke, testifying on the Word and promise of Christ Jesus (see Mark 9:1; Luke 9:27).
If Jesus Christ’s Word isn’t true, if His return has been delayed as suggested by most Christians, then He isn’t truthworthy. But He indeed is truthworthy, true and has returned according to His Word. We just have been told and taught otherwise. The error is with tradition, defintely not the Word of God. Else, His redemptive work isn’t complete. Salvation remains a hope, not yet a true reality (see Hebrews 9:28; Romans 13:11 & 1Peter 1:3-5). Yes, that’s the implication of any suggestion that He has yet to return.
Now back to our discussion in Luke. In effect with verse 8, Jesus pointed out the shrewdness of the Pharisees – the sons of this age – who actually were unjust but had accused Him to be unrighteous, as I have mentioned earlier. Then comes verses 9-13, where Jesus continued on, saying:
And I tell you, make friends for yourselves by means of unrighteous wealth, so that when it fails they may receive you into the eternal dwellings. “One who is faithful in a very little is also faithful in much, and one who is dishonest in a very little is also dishonest in much. If then you have not been faithful in the unrighteous wealth, who will entrust to you the true riches? And if you have not been faithful in that which is another’s, who will give you that which is your own? No servant can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money.”
Albert Barnes’ Notes on the Bible has wonderfully explained the meaning of “unrighteous wealth”:
These words are an Hebrew expression for “unrighteous mammon,” the noun being used for an adjective, as is common in the New Testament. The word “unrighteous,” here, stands opposed to “the true riches” in Luk 16:11, and means “deceitful, false, not to be trusted.” It has this meaning often. See 1Ti 6:17; Luk 12:33; Mat 6:19; Mat 19:21. It does not signify, therefore, that they had acquired the property “unjustly,” but that property was “deceitful” and not to be trusted. The wealth of the steward was deceitful; he could not rely on its continuance; it was liable to be taken away at any moment. So the wealth of the world is deceitful. We cannot “calculate” on its continuance. It may give us support or comfort now, but it may be soon removed, or we taken from “it,” and we should, therefore, so use it as to derive benefit from it hereafter.
In other words, Christians should always trust Jesus Christ in everything, for salvation and for our daily needs as well. We should not be too preoccupied by the desire to get rich and things of this temporal world. Rather, we should sought to be rich with God. Remember Jesus’ words on another parabolic teaching. See Luke 12:20-26.
“But God said to him (rich man), ‘Fool! This night your soul is required of you, and the things you have prepared, whose will they be?’ So is the one who lays up treasure for himself and is not rich toward God.” And He (Jesus Christ) said to his disciples, “Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat, nor about your body, what you will put on. For life is more than food, and the body more than clothing. Consider the ravens: they neither sow nor reap, they have neither storehouse nor barn, and yet God feeds them. Of how much more value are you than the birds! And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? If then you are not able to do as small a thing as that, why are you anxious about the rest?”
Similarly, like Luke 16:9-13, Jesus Christ was simply reiterating His teachings on Luke 12:32-34.
Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom. Sell your possessions, and give to the needy. Provide yourselves with moneybags that do not grow old, with a treasure in the heavens that does not fail, where no thief approaches and no moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.
According to Jesus’ own teaching, “unrighteous wealth or temporal wealth (v.9)” is of less value, unrealiable, temporal and cannot be compared to the “true riches (v.11)”. True riches is with Christ Jesus our Lord; it’s about the kingdom of heaven. As I have said earlier, the Pharisees have repeatedly rebuked Jesus for welcoming tax collectors and sinners. Likewise, do not allow false religiosity misdirect you to missed entrance to God’s kingdom. Jesus Christ said:
““Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few. “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves.”” (Matthew 7:13-15)
Look at Jesus’ last words to the church. Let it resonate in your mind and heart that you may find the strength to live your lives holding on to true riches. See Revelation 3:18-22.
I counsel you to buy from Me [Jesus Christ] gold refined by fire, so that you may be rich, and white garments so that you may clothe yourself and the shame of your nakedness may not be seen, and salve to anoint your eyes, so that you may see. Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline, so be zealous and repent. Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with Me. The one who conquers, I will grant him to sit with Me on My throne, as I also conquered and sat down with my Father on His throne. He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.
Let me remind everyone that these words of Jesus Christ were spoken a millennia ago. Thanks be to God, Jesus Christ was faithful to all His promises. He is not a liar, as alleged by some. I firmly believe and understand that Jesus came and fulfilled all His promises. So let me encourage everyone: seek Christ, His righteousness and His kingdom, for only then may anyone find true riches – entrance to the kingdom of heaven.
P.S. This is an edited version of my original posting. The edits concern aspects on the parable of Jesus Christ, the story of the dishonest manager. All major points remain the same. I have removed a lot of insights to the true teaching of the Scripture for it may have digressed from our original study. Jesus Christ has been teaching repeatedly against lusting for earthly wealth at the expense of the true wealth that Christians should seek – entrance to God’s kingdom.
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